In 2021 we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. This was a real breakthrough in diabetes treatment which has saved the lives of many patients. How was this extraordinary discovery achieved? On the occasion of the celebrations of insulin’s 100th anniversary, we’d like to tell you its history.

Despite the fact that diabetes has been known for centuries, it’s hard to imagine what the lives of patients with this disease were like more than a hundred years ago. Patients lost weight rapidly, they felt fatigue and weakness , additionally they experienced increased thirst. extreme hunger and frequent urination. , They would eventually go into a coma and finally died. The only effective treatment was a very strict diet with minimal carbohydrate intake, which could prolong patients’ life for 1 or 2 years. The scientist were searching for the causes of the diabetes and best treatment. In 1889, Oskar Minkowski, a German researcher with Polish origin and Joseph von Mering, proved that the pancreas was the site where “pancreatic substances” (insulin) were produced, which led to the discovery of insulin and its use in the treatment of patients.

One of the biggest breakthrough moments in the history of medicine

In autumn of 1920, Frederick Banting, a young surgeon from the town of Alliston in the province of Ontario in Canada, inspired by Oskar Minkowski’s experiments, , decided to start research on the pancreas, to isolate an internal secretion of the pancreas that might prove to be a cure for diabetes The scientist presented his research concept to professor Macleod, who offered Banting lab, dogs to work on and agreed for one of his assistants, a student, Charles Best, to take part in the research. In May 1921 a series of experiments were started, which brought about one of the biggest breakthrough moments in the history of medicine.

After initial setbacks, they achieved their first successes. Using an extract of pancreas from duct-ligated dogs for injection into other depancreatized, diabetic dogs made possible to reduce blood glucose in the one suffering from diabetes . with this the extract, later called insulin from the Latin word insula, or Island, they kept another dog with severe diabetes, Marjorie, alive for 70 days till autumn 1921. It was the first dog to experience the healing power of insulin.

The first patient

The next challenge was to achieve an extract which could be safely tested on human subjects James Bertram Collip, a reputable biochemist, was invited to join the team to work on purifying insulin. When he had achieved a suitable level of purity, it was possible to progress to the stage of clinical trials on patients.

The first patient was fourteen-year-old Leonard Thompson, who received the first insulin injections in January 1922. when he was admitted to hospital, he weighed less than 30 kg and was in a critical condition. He was on the edge of death from diabetes. However, after the insulin extract was administered, the symptoms of glycosuria and ketonuria subsided, and his high blood glucose levels dropped to near-normal level duced. The boy looked better, he was more active and felt stronger. Leonard Thompson lived another 13 years; and regularly took insulin. His life was extended in a miraculous way.

The Nobel prize

In 1923 sir Frederick Banting and John Macleod, received the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine for the discovery of insulin. Banting shared his prize with Best, and Macleod – with Collip.

Production of insulin

In January 1923 – Banting, Best and Collip obtained a patent for insulin, which they immediately sold for a dollar each to the university of Toronto. It became a gift for patients with diabetes. At the end of 1923, Eli Lilly began the mass production of insulin, as the first company in the world. From that time more and more countries started to manufacture the new medication, including Poland, In Poland Kazimierz Funk started production of insulin In May 2001, during a Conference of the Polish Society of Diabetology, the firm Bioton presented the achievement of Polish diabetology, introducing the first Polish human insulin.